Understanding Species Invasions: Red Sea Fish in the Mediterranean
Jonathan (Yoni) Belmaker, Tel Aviv University
Species invasion is considered one of the prime threats to biodiversity, driving major changes in ecosystem structure and function. However, it has proven challenging to identify the traits that enhance invasion success. In the Mediterranean, fish populations are faced with multiple stressors including overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and displacement by invasive species. The latter is of particular concern in the eastern Mediterranean where a large influx of Red Sea species has followed the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. These invasive species make up a large percentage of total fish biomass in this region. We focus on this unique 'natural experiment', in which the entire pool of potentially alien species is known, to understand the causes and consequences of fish invasion. For example, using data on ecological traits and environmental affinity of Red Sea species in their native range allows us to identify the prime characteristics of successful invasive species. We find that species that naturally experience low maximum temperatures in their native range have a low probability of becoming invasive. Thus, contrary to predictions of an accelerating number of invasives following increased water temperatures, hotter summers in this region may prevent the future establishment of potential invasives. Such approaches can be used to rank the potential invasiveness of species that have not yet entered the Mediterranean.
Background Review Article:
Sarah Hayden Reichard and Peter S. White. Invasion Biology: An Emerging Field of Study. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 90: 64–66. 2003.